Thursday, April 07, 2011

Who's Your Father? What About Them?

I recently came across John 8:44a again: "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father."  Jesus was referring not to those that did believe in Him (verse 31) but to those in the audience that did not.  The choice seems to have been either we are "of God" (verse 42) or we are "of the devil".  Man falls into the latter category if we do not: love Jesus (verse 42), understand what He is saying, and hear His word (verse 43).  For more on this theme as developed by the Apostle John, that of being "of the devil" see I John 3:7-15.  We'll come back to part of that later.

But here's the thought that ran through my mind as I read these verses.  I, and I imagine many of you who read my blogs, are Christians.  We do love Jesus, we believe we have understood if not all of what He said certainly the part about Who He is and how He relates to the Father, etc., and we have heard His word on how then we should live.  So far, so good.

Now, you got up this morning (or yesterday), you got dressed, you had breakfast and you went out into the world to live your life.  It may be at school, at work, at the stores, at a community event, out of dinner with friends, etc.  And the chances are, and hopefully this is true, you interacted with a number of unbelievers.  That is you interacted with those that do not love Jesus, understand Who He is, or hear His word.

If you're familiar with my writing and blogs, you'd know that this is around the time in the blog I would pose my question, and so I will:  Are there just two kinds of people in the world -- those 'of God' and those 'of the devil'?

I am not a lawyer, so I don't have to adhere to the sound advice of "never asking a question I do not know the answer to."  Indeed, being bestowed with inquisitive minds, we should all be doing just the opposite, that is, asking such questions.

If the answer to my question is "yes" then everyone we deal with in life who is not a Christian is, by process of elimination, "of their father, the devil".  I was out with some beloved family recently, that haven't quite made that commitment to Christ.  If the answer to my question is "yes", then that would be true of them and all others like them.  If the answer to my question is "no", then we'd have to find another "father" for them.  And herein lies my dilemma.  A "yes" answer makes me very uncomfortable and a "no" answer is difficult to arrive at.

Perhaps it is indeed necessary to look up those verses where the apostle further develops his idea in I John 3.  The description is expanded to include the following: the one who practices sin is of the devil (vs. 8); both the children of God and of the devil are obvious (vs. 10); anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (vs. 10); everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (vs. 15).  What do we do with all these verses?  There are numerous instances in Scripture were we are advised to shun evildoers.  Psalm 26:5 which says "I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked" is one of them.  Proverbs 24:1 says "Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them."

How do we get out of this dilemma of knowing people we associate with and people we love are considered spiritually to be "of the devil",  of being told that we should not "desire to be with them", and at the same time being told to be "salt and light" in the "world" as Jesus instructed us to?  I think there are several things to consider:

  1. We can't just throw our hands up and say, "great, I don't have to be with these folks and I don't have to be 'salt and light' to them."  Just because we perceive a dilemma in the Bible, does not mean there is a dilemma.  We simply have to dig harder to find the solution.  The Bible does not contradict itself, but God has left some issues for which we are to seek and discover His intention through prayer, study, and seeking His wisdom.
  2. We need to understand there is a difference between "my friend or relative" and "what my friend or relative does, says, or believes".  The former requires me to be "salt and light" to.  The latter requires me to avoid copying or facilitating or condoning.  I have to be wise enough and totally dependent on God to realize the difference and to understand my capability of doing either, as required, at any given time.  Then I need to pursue what I should do and avoid what I should not do.  From this perspective, I find it interesting that whether my friends or relatives are "of the devil" is more about me and how I react to them in love and how I relate to them in truth, rather than about them, although ultimately it is about their eternity.  But right here and now, it's about me and my relationship with my Father and how I obey Him in regards to them.  It is important that we understand that.
  3. Finally, to make this thing a lot easier to tackle, we only need to think that at one time in our lives, we were "that friend" or "that relative" who did not have God as our own true spiritual Father.  Somebody related to us during that period of our lives.  We must do likewise for others.
When I first started thinking about this issue, I entertained, at the suggestion of a loved one that I asked, the possibility that just like there are graduations of maturity for the Christian, there are graduations of 'being evil' for the non-believer.  I mean after all, you will tell me that my relatives and friends are "not that evil, they're just not believers yet."  I think that is true.  However, I have to be careful that I don't allow that understanding to somehow weaken my desire or efforts or concern to draw their attention to the fact that their ultimate outcome, eternity "without God", can only be changed by their becoming children "of God".  That is the danger in emphasizing their "goodness".  It is the same danger we as Christians have of failing to pursue maturity in Christ if we simplify emphasize the fact that "we go to church and tithe, and do not break the commandments knowingly, that is, we are doing our best to be good; what more can be expected?"

So, yes, my relatives and friends who are not Christ followers, are, just like yours, "of the devil" but they strive to live good and righteous lives to the best of their abilities.  My job, and yours, is to be able to separate the two -- their state and their practices and finds ways to meet them where they are with the "salt and light" that they need.  I pray God will show us how to do that individually and uniquely for each and every one of our loved ones.
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